How To Become A Private Investigator: Schools, Salary, Cost, Requirements

Do you love to uncover secrets? Here is a passion you can turn into a high-paying profession in the USA. Learn how to become a private investigator, PI requirements, salary, and schools to attend. Stay with us.

Do you know the licensing requirements to become a PI by states in the USA? We have written it in detail.

Table of Contents

This post is highly detailed, with everything you need to know about how to become a private investigator, including the requirements in the USA. Relax; we can assure you that it will be worth the read.

Who Is A Private Investigator?

A Private investigator is also known as a private detective who works for organizations and individuals to find information. This information may include legal, personal, or financial information; in addition, they also perform background checks, interview people, and engage in surveillance activities.

Furthermore, several states allow private investigators to carry weapons but have to undergo compulsory firearms training, certification, and certification renewal.

What Does A Private Investigator Do?

There are many things a private investigator does. We will list the work description so that when you learn how to become a private investigator, you will be aware of your job role.

A typical PI in the USA and beyond investigates;

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  • Crime
  • People; their occupations, character, marital status, properties etc.
  • Causes of events like accidents, fires, injuries or losses
  • Locating lost or stolen property or individuals
  • Securing evidence for use in court

How Long Does It Take To Become A Private Investigator?

There is no specific amount of time needed. Your level and education and the time frame in passing the state licensing exam and requirements will determine how long it will take you to become a private detective.

In the USA, there is no specific education required to become a private investigator, however, it will take you reaching the age of 18 or 21 to get experience and licensing. In those states where you can work without knowledge, like Oklahoma, you need at least a bachelor’s degree in law, criminal justice, or political science.

So, how long will it take you to become a private investigator or detective? When you meet all the state-stipulated requirements.

Since you may need to study law: 177 Law School Scholarships 2025 for Undergraduates

How Much Does It Cost To Become A Private Investigator?

The typical cost to become a private investigator is the amount you will spend on processing and obtaining your license and any other course the state mandates. The cost varies by state. But we can make an estimate. For instance, in Florida, the state PI course costs $420, and $154 for a license and fingerprints.

Which Schools Can I Attend To Become A Private Investigator?

Although most states here in the USA do not need people to have an education before becoming a private investigator, nevertheless, pursue an associate or a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, political science, or a related field. Private investigators require these degrees and knowledge.

The private investigator degree and certificate program are seen below

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  • The University of Washington -Certificate in Private Investigation
  • Boston University – Professional Investigation Program online and offline
  • Louisiana State University Alexandria – Private Investigator 40-Hour Basic Training Course
  • University of Louisiana Lafayette- Private Investigator Basic
  • The University of North Texas -Certificate in Professional Private Investigations
  • California State University, Fullerton -Certificate in Private Investigation
  • Madonna University – Livonia, – Certificate of Completion in Private Investigation
  • Texas A&M International University – Legal Investigation Certification Course online
  • Clayton State University – Professional Investigator Certificate Program
  • Utica College – BS and MS Degrees in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation, Criminal Intelligence Analysis
  • Detective Training Institute trains individuals to become private investigators
See also  Walden University Reviews | Admission, Tuition, Requirements, Ranking.

Universities that offer criminal justice/police science as a course;

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  • Washington State University
  • CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  • Idaho University
  • Texas state University
  • Ohio University
  • Miami University
  • Florida state university
  • Arkansas University
  • George Mason University

Read About: What Can I Do With a Fire Science Degree? Schools & Career

Private Investigator Salary In the USA

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is a projection that private investigators will have an 8% job growth between 2025 and 2028.

Similarly, in 2025, private investigators had a median annual salary of $50,090 and an hourly rate of $24.08 per hour.

Indeed.coms agrees that the salary of private investigators with 2 to 3 years of experience and adequate qualification is $21.58 per hour. Glassdoor gives an annual average of $48,716.

In conclusion, the private investigator’s experience, education, industry, and licensure can and permanently affect the salaries he receives. It also affects the kind of investigative job he receives.

Suppose the salary expectation is the motivating factor for you looking at how to become a private investigator in the USA. In that case, the one we have written above is high enough to kickstart your career even as there is an increase in the crime rate.

In Which State In The USA Does Private Investigators Earn the Most Money?

There are states in the USA where private investigators earn the most money, not only because of the crime rate but because of the increased exposure those states have to the activities of a private investigator.

According to Forbes, the best-paying state for private investigators and detectives in the USA is California. California has a notably high cost of living compared to the U.S. overall.

We will just list them below with their most recent average salary.

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  • California: $68,570
  • Delaware: $65,610
  • Utah : $64,440
  • Nevada : $64,200
  • New Jersey: $63,970
  • Washington: $63,750
  • Maryland: $61,730
  • Missouri : $60,890
  • Idaho: $60,130
  • New York: $59,100

What Are The Steps/ Requirements To Become A Private Investigator?

In order to become a licensed private investigator in the world and USA, there are specific licensing requirements, which include education and experience, application procedures, and renewal procedures.

We also wish to point out that the requirements to become a private detective and investigator varies by state. However, there are some general requirements for becoming a private investigator peculiar to all the states.

Most states also have strict rules prohibiting candidates with a felony or any other criminal conviction from becoming private investigators.

What do you need to be a private investigator? Generally, these below are the requirements. Let us explain fully.

Step #1: Get A High School Diploma or Equivalent

Most employers and states require a high school diploma or equivalent before hiring and allowing someone to work as a private investigator.

Step #2: Relevant Age

Many states allow people who are up to 21 years of age to become private investigators. Also, some states have an age limit of 25 years; those below this cannot become private investigators.

Step #3: Consider an Associate’s or Bachelors’s Degree

You should consider getting an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or related fields. If you want to work as a private investigator, earning a bachelor’s or associate’s degree will open you up to wider opportunities.

The higher the degree, the wider the variety of job opportunities available.

Step #4: Get A Job Experience

Getting a job experience as a military or a police officer will enhance your qualification for the job of a private investigator.

Many private investigators in the USA have worked in law enforcement before becoming private investigators. They make this career switch because remote investigator jobs have no formal official age for retirement.

In addition, paralegals, process servers, and collections agents may also choose second careers as private investigators.

How To Become A Licensed Private Investigator By States?

You can become a private investigator without having adequate licensing. In the following subheading, we listed the states where private investigators do not require licensing.

However, every state in the USA has its specific requirements. In light of this, we will write about some forms and links to where you can find the requirements for licensing for other states.

Let us begin.

How To Become A Licensed Private Investigator In Texas

In Texas, the Texas Workforce Commission expects a job increase by 26.5% by 2025. The Texas Private Security Bureau grants the license. 

In addition, applicants must be able to qualify as the manager or owner of a PI firm.  If not, he must first train with a PI agency.

A private investigations agency can consist of just the agency owner working independently or the owner and several employees.

Step #1. Meet the Basic Registration Requirements

The checklist below is essential to becoming a PI whether you want to work for an already established agency or open your own. They are;

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Step #2. Fulfill Education and Experience Requirements

To work for a private investigation company

Firstly, you must be sponsored by a private investigation agency licensed in Texas before you can apply for registration as a private investigator. This means you will be employed or have a firm job offer from a private investigative agency licensed in Texas.

Your employer will decide the level of education it wants. Asides from law enforcement experience, you can consider getting a degree in Business Administration – Legal Studies or Criminal Justice with either the option of Homeland Security and Emergency Management or Human Service.

To start a private investigation company

To be able to open your practice, you must meet the qualifications to become a private investigation company owner/manager. You must meet one of the following requirements;

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  • Three years of private investigation experience
  • Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field
  • Bachelor’s degree in any field, plus six months of investigative experience
  • Associate degree in criminal justice or a related field plus one year of investigative experience
  • Specialized private investigator training (200 hours minimum)

Step #3. Register your New PI Agency or Become Registered with an Existing Agency

If you intend to work for a private investigation company

The employer will collect your data and have you complete the Original Registration Application Supplement. Using the online application system submit an application to the Texas Department of Public Safety, Private Security Bureau (PSB). Also, submit fingerprints.

If all goes well, your employer will be emailed your registration.

When planning to start a private investigation company

Submit a PSB-01 Company License Application Form if registering a new PI company. Before this, your company name should have been approved, or use your name. Also, you should have identified the kind of business it is and the partners and shareholders.

If you are submitting online, wait for 24 hours after completing the company application before submitting your individual owner/manager application. As the owner of the PI company, submit the Original Owner/Manager Application either offline or apply online.

Application Fee of $33 and a fingerprint receipt. Send by mail to Texas Department of Public Safety, Private Security MSC 0242, P.O. Bo 15999, Austin, TX 78761-5999. Add the PSB-50 form.

Ninety days within the application, write and pass the manager exam. Show proof of liability insurance using the Certificate of Liability Insurance Form.

Step #4. After Registration

Your registration must be renewed online each year.

You will need to take courses as either the manager or an employee whose company is less than 15 years (18 hours) and more than 15 years for 12 hours, respectively.

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  • 14/8 hours related to investigations
  • 2/2 hours specific to ethics
  • 2/2 hours in the review of the Texas Private Security Act

Some of the significant private investigating agencies in Texas include:

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  • Akin Investigations
  • DBU Investigations
  • Gil Wilson
  • Sneakers & Heels Licensed Investigation & Trial Work
  • Kurlander Legal Support Services
  • R&R Private Security
  • Eddie Garza Security & Investigations
  • S. S. Investigations, Inc.

Read about: 20 Cheapest Online Schools in Texas, 2025

How To Become A Licensed Private Investigator In California

In California, the body responsible for granting licenses to private investigators in the state is the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS).

With this license, you can work independently or manage a private investigative firm. Apply for the one you want with a firearm permit.

Consequently, there are other things you need to know. You will write a two-hour exam and undergo background checks through the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the California Department of Justice (DOJ) to obtain this license.

Again, you require a three-year experience working as an investigator before you will be given a license in California. Similarly, an associate’s degree in criminal justice, criminal law, or police science will replace half a year of the required experience.  Also, a law or bachelor’s degree in police science will substitute for one year of experience.

Now the steps to become a licensed private investigator in California.

Step #1. Acquire Experience/Education in California

The following experience, training, and education are needed in California to become a private investigator.

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The following jobs are acceptable as an investigative work: sworn law enforcement officer, military/police officer. Also, working under a licensed PI, attorney, repossession firm, insurance agency, or arson investigation unit as an investigator.

These listed jobs are not acceptable in California: process server, public records researcher, or debt collector.

Step #2. Do your Biometrics/ Fingerprint

In California, you must fill out a Live Scan Fingerprint Application. If you want to apply for a weapons permit, fill out another one also. These forms are unavailable online, so go to the centers for your application.

The standard fee is $51 for a private investigator and $89 with a firearm permit. The receipt gotten here will be in your application jacket.

Step #3. Obtain, Complete, and Submit the Application

To apply, you must be U.S. citizens or legal residents above the age of 18. Submit the following documents along with the application packet.

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  • Application Form
  • Personal Identification Form
  • Certificate in Support of Experience
  • Authorization of Business Name (if applicable)
  • Two Passport-Type Photos (2” X 1-1/2”)
  • Firearms Qualification and Firearms Permit Application (if applicable)
  • Live Scan Receipt
  • Check or Money Order for $50 ($130 if requesting firearms permit)

After getting these, email the packet to BSIS, P.O. Box 989002, West Sacramento, CA 95798-9002. They can also be called at 916-322-4000.

Step #4. Take and Pass California Private Investigator Exam

People who applied and are successful will receive an exam packet Psychological Services Industries containing a candidate handbook, study materials, and a number to call to schedule the examination.

Expect to write a test that covers topics such as terminology, laws/regulations, civil/criminal liability, evidence handling, surveillance, etc. If you pass, submit a $175 fee to receive the license.

Step #5. Begin Working

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, PIs in California earn an annual mean salary of $58,970. The salary in areas are;

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  • Sacramento:  $50,900
  • San Jose:  $80,870
  • Los Angeles:  $63,310
  • San Francisco:  $74,470-$79,900
  • Oakland:  $66,820
  • San Diego:  $72,870

From this list, you can check the Licensing Requirements for other States in the USA.

To Read More About 10 Best criminal justice schools in the World

Which States In the USA Do Not Require A License To Be A Private Investigator?

According to a survey by BLS, as at the last count, it showed there were over 33,000 private investigators working throughout the United State.

Although all the states in the United States require private investigators to be licensed, these five states do not require licensing at the state level for private investigators.

They are;

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  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Mississippi
  • South Dakota
  • Wyoming

However, of these five states, 2 have licensing requirements at the local level. They are Wyoming and Alaska, Idaho, Mississippi, and South Dakota do not have any license requirements at both the local and state level.

How To Become A Private Investigator With No Experience?

There are some states in private investigators where you can practice without experience of any sort.

For instance, some states, such as Oklahoma, allow candidates with no experience to become licensed, provided they complete CLEET-approved training.

Are There Online Private Investigation Courses?

Yes, there are a few private investigative courses in the USA. We mean the accredited ones.

Detective Training Institute is one of such platforms. Alongside this, we will list others. They are;

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  • Texas A&M International University – Legal Investigation Certification Course
  • Boston University – Boston Professional Investigation Program
  • Fox Valley Technical College – Private Investigation Certificate
  • City College – Diploma in Private Investigation Services
  • Ashworth Community College – Private Investigation Career Diploma
  • Penn Foster Career School- Private Investigator Career Program
  • Stratford Career Institute – Private Investigator Training Course

Read Also: 10 Best Online Criminal Justice Degree in North Carolina

We have already established that many private investigators in the USA study either law or criminal justice for their undergraduate and graduate studies.

However, this segment lists some of the scholarships for USA students to take related courses in private investigation. They are below.

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  • Zinda Law Group Scholarship Program
  • Ruth D. Peterson Fellowship for Racial and Ethnic Diversity
  • The Ronnie Williams Foundation Criminal Justice Scholarship Application
  • MALDEF Law School Scholarship
  • Marjorie M. Shostak Scholarship
  • Anderson Criminal Justice Scholarship
  • Ritchie-Jennings Memorial Scholarship Program
  • Charles Sturt University Vice-Chancellor International Scholarships
  • Criminology and Criminal Justice Honours Scholarship at Griffith University
  • Brian Terry Foundation Scholarship

The Full Description And Deadlines of these Scholarships Can Be Found Here: Top 10 Criminal Justice Scholarships 2025 [UPDATED]

Top companies for Private Investigators in the United States

After learning how to become a private Investigator in the USA, you may decide to go into private practice or work for reputable companies.

According to a survey conducted, it was found out that 57% of Private investigators in the United States agreed that their salaries are enough to cover their cost of living.

If you wish to work for a company as a private investigator, consider working for these top companies in the USA.

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  • MG Security
  • Summit Investigations
  • Claims Bureau USA
  • Resource Investigative Services

FAQs on How To Become A Private Investigator In 2025: Schools, Salary, Cost, Requirements

How long does it take to become a private investigator?

There is no specific amount of time needed. Your level and education and the time frame in passing the state licensing exam and requirements will determine how long it will take you to become a private detective in the USA.

What qualifications do I need to become a private investigator?

High school diploma or equivalent
2. An associate or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field
3. Obtain work experience
4. Get a license

Similar job to a private investigator?

You can become either a Cop or an FBI agent. They are similar professions to private investigating jobs in the USA.

Can I practice as a private investigator without a license?

Yes, you can be. If you are practicing in a state where there is no need for licensing, then you can practice as an unlicensed private investigator. The states are
South Dakota

Can private investigators make arrests?

Private investigators cannot make legal arrests in the United States. However, some states allow for citizen arrests. It is usually rare for private investigators to make arrests.


Have you long desired to become a private investigator in the USA? has provided a detailed guide on how to go about achieving that dream. Read through and get back to us where it seems confusing.



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